Nina Kerthen, née Valéry. David’s first wife. I don’t know much about her: I’ve seen a couple of photos, I know she was beautiful, Parisienne, young, posh, blonde. I know that she died in an accident at Morvellan Mine, eighteen months ago. I know that her husband and in particular her son – my brand-new, eight-year-old stepson Jamie – must still be grieving, even if they try not to show it.
And I know, very very clearly, that one of my jobs here in Carnhallow is to rescue things: to be the best stepmother in the world to this sad and lovely little boy.
‘I’ll have a look,’ I say brightly. ‘At the books. Maybe get some ideas. Go and catch your plane.’
He turns for a final kiss, I step back.
‘No – go! Kiss me again we’ll end up in the fourteenth bedroom, and then it will be six o’clock.’
I’m not lying. David’s laugh is dark and sexy.
‘I’ll Skype you tonight, and see you Friday.’
With that, he departs. I hear doors slam down long hallways, then the growl of his Mercedes. Then comes the silence: the special summery silence of Carnhallow, soundtracked by the whisper of the distant sea.
Picking up my phone, I open my notebook app.
Continuing Nina’s restoration of this huge house is not going to be easy. I do have some artistic talent to help: I have a degree in photography from Goldsmiths College. A degree which turned out to be utterly pointless, as I basically graduated the same afternoon that photography collapsed as a paying career, and so I ended up teaching photography to kids who would never themselves become photographers.
This was, I suppose, another reason I was happy to give up London life: the meaninglessness was getting to me. I wasn’t even taking photos any more. Just taking buses through the rain to my cramped and shared Shoreditch flat. Which I couldn’t actually afford.
But now that I have no real job, I can, ironically, apply these artistic gifts. Such as they are.
Armed with my phone I begin my explorations: trying to get a proper mental map of Carnhallow. I’ve been here one week, but we’ve spent most of that week in the bedroom, the kitchen, or on the beaches, enjoying the blissful summer weather. Much of my stuff from London is still in boxes. There’s even a suitcase left to unpack from our honeymoon: our gloriously hedonistic, sensuously expensive trip to Venice, where David bought me his favourite martini, in Harry’s Bar, by St Mark’s Square: the gin in a shot glass, chilled nearly to ice ‘and faintly poisoned with vermouth’, as David put it. I love the way David puts things.
But that is already the past, and this is my future. Carnhallow.
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